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Ringler, Dick / Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery (May 2005)

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[XXXIX]

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Wiglaf was woebegone,
watching next to him,
seeing his lord
sink to the ground
and die in his sight,
enduring terrible
death agonies.
The dragon lay
beside him, its days
of soaring over;
the coiled creature
had come to the end
of guarding hoards
of gold in the earth.
Blades of iron
beaten by hammers,
hard and biting,
had hewn it down;
that wide-flying worm,
wounded to death,
had sunk to the ground
beside its treasure
and would skim no more
through the sky at midnight,
sporting in the air,
displaying itself,
proud of its riches;
it had plunged to earth,
killed by the old king's
courage and daring.
They say it is seldom
seen to happen
that a great hero
gains the victory,
daring though he is
in deeds of valor,
if he vies with the breath
and venom of a dragon
or rifles its treasure
with courageous hands
while the worm is at home,
awake and alert,
in its dark barrow.
Death was the price
Beowulf paid
for that bright ring-hoard;
king and monster
came to the end
of life together.
In a little while
the scrimshankers
came skulking from the woods,
ten cowardly
traitors who had all
lacked the courage
to lift their spears
in their prince's last
most pressing danger
and who now bore their shields
ignobly back
to where their leader
lay in the dust;
they waited there, ashamed,
for Wiglaf to speak.
He sat exhausted
by the side of his lord,
fiercely sprinkling
his face with water;
but no matter how much
his mind was bent
on keeping life
in the king's body,
he was helpless to change
the hero's destiny:
God's judgments
governed men's fates
in those days of old
and do so still.
Soon the fainthearts
received their answer
from the grieving youth,
and it was grim and hard;
Wiglaf the son
of Weohstan spoke,
frowning with disfavor
on the faithless crew:
"Our ancient king
often gave us---
heroes while in hall!---
helmets and mailcoats,
the finest treasures
he could find for his men
anywhere on earth,
armor like the brilliant
well-wrought war-gear
you are wearing right now.
Anyone with any
inkling of truth
must freely admit
that he found, in the end,
when threatened with death,
that he had thrown away
the love and the gifts
he lavished on you!
He could hardly boast
of you hearth companions!
But God the giver
of glory allowed him,
acting alone
with only his dagger,
to take vengeance
on his terrible foe.
I myself could give
only small support
in that storm of strife,
but strove even so,
overtaxing my strength,
to protect my kinsman,
and the foe grew feebler
when it felt my blow,
the flames darted
less fiercely from its head.
Too few defenders
flocked to his side
when our prince stood
in peril of his life.
From this day forward,
therefore, your kinsmen
will be given no gifts,
no gold, no war-gear,
no renown by our kings;
they will never receive
gems or jewelry
or enjoy the right
to have and hold
inherited land,
when the country learns
of your cowardly flight,
that deed of dishonor.
Death is better
for any man
than infamy!"

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